JACKSONVILLE - The ongoing effort to develop downtown Jacksonville has taken on a distinctly different tone since last winter.
The Jaguars and their affiliated real estate development entity, Iguana Investments, unveiled on Thursday a project which seeks to create a sustainable future for downtown both economically and environmentally.
The 1st Downtown Jacksonville plan centers on a community vision in which residents and businesses intersect with visitors and events in places and spaces that define the future.
"My goal for downtown Jacksonville is to be the envy of other cities and to amaze ourselves and others with the results of our efforts," said Jaguars Owner Shad Khan. "We must have a downtown with all this and more; we have to be the spark; we have to be the change to build a team and a downtown that we can all be proud of."
The Jaguars believe a championship-caliber football team will be a significant driver for the new vision. The arrival of head coach Urban Meyer and quarterback Trevor Lawrence has sparked a renewed sense of hope on the field.
"We are at the doorstep of a new era of football," explained Khan. "This just doesn't feel like another changing of the guard. This is indeed a new era. Urban is a proven winner, so is Trent and our first-round draft picks Trevor and Travis, and it sets the stage for the Jaguars moving forward. The sense of anticipation isn't just limited to Duval, there is a global interest."
A strong team with a strong approach to investment in the community should result in a project that builds both a sustainable football franchise and a community that prospers alongside it.
The community vision will be as prominent a feature of downtown Jacksonville as any building. Metropolitan Park will be enhanced and protected as a vibrant place where people can 'touch' the riverfront. The Jaguars are adopting the park through a city program and will commit $200,000 yearly for 20 years to keep the park clean, safe and accessible.
Neighborhoods such as the Out East area just to the north of the stadium with distinctive cultural and historic roots will be engaged to promote a stronger and more prosperous community which can enjoy the fruits of this deeply held belief in working for a stronger future together.
"We've talked to a great deal of community and business leaders during this process," said Jaguars President Mark Lamping. "We've always recognized our responsibility to the community and our investment in it. The community piece of this story is one we need to do a better job of telling and continue working on."
Leading the way is the first phase of the Shipyards that will feature a world class hotel with a distinctive architectural design to be a prominent landmark. Alongside the new Four Seasons Jacksonville will be an entirely renovated public marina and space for offices and restaurants and shopping. The design will be bigger than just a five-star hotel; local artists will contribute to the project to stamp the downtown district and sports complex with an undeniably Duval flavor. Baptist Health will move its Jacksonville Orthopedic Institute into a new state-of-the-art facility, and the Khan family has pledged $5 million towards the Museum of Science and History's relocation to the north bank.
A new stadium with new football facilities will anchor the franchise for its future in Jacksonville. The first phase of planning for a new stadium returned the news that a renovation of the existing building is possible, which could save upwards of $500 million on the bottom line. The final design is several steps from completion but will feature shade for all seats, wider concourses, and easier ways to get up and around the stadium in addition to all the modern features of recently constructed stadiums worldwide.
"Teams and cities that have found themselves in trouble did not have a long-term stadium plan prior to the expiration of their lease," explained Lamping. "That's why we partnered with the city about 18 months ago to get ahead of the curve and know what we had and what all the stakeholders wanted going forward."
A new football performance center is an important next step. The performance center will both enhance the Jaguars ability to compete on the field and keep games in Jacksonville during the stadium renovation project.
"We are 100 percent committed to keeping games in Jacksonville during the renovation," offered Lamping. "We have a great example of that here in the State of Florida with the Miami Dolphins, who were able to keep working while Hard Rock Stadium underwent renovations."
The entire football operation will move into the new 125,000-square foot building complete with locker rooms, training facilities, coaches' offices, meeting space and a new indoor facility built to make the football team stronger and more competitive. It is also designed to demonstrate the Jaguars' long-term commitment to downtown Jacksonville.
"Our owner's commitment to building a winning team is second to none," said Meyer. "We talk a lot about a culture of excellence, which means the best of the best. If it isn't the best, then let's change it and make it better. This will be the best and give us a chance to compete and win at the highest level."
The Jaguars will split the cost of the new football performance center with the city despite the current lease which calls for city dollars to fund the team's practice facility needs.
"We had a choice to make: Continue maintaining an average NFL stadium and below-average practice and training facility at the city's expense, or find a way forward that creates something new with both public and private monies," said Lamping. "We're excited to be ambitious with these projects and show our commitment by investing in city-owned assets."
The timeline is still to be determined but the process with the Downtown Investment Authority and the Downtown Development Review Board is currently underway. The hope is this endeavor gets to the finish line with the eventual approval of City Council.
"If the City Council believes this is good for the city, then the project will advance," Lamping offered. "I feel so much stronger about this project because we've talked to so many more people and asked what people want. If this is that, then let's get started."